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The Royal Tenenbaums
DVD disk
10.08.2004 By: Mike Sampson
The Royal Tenenbaums order
Wes Anderson

Gene Hackman
Gwyneth Paltrow
Ben Stiller


star Printer-Friendly version
A disgraced former litigator (Hackman) named Royal Tenenbaum gets kicked out of the hotel room he's been living in for the past twenty-or-so years after a series of unpaid bills. He mistakenly believes his family will take him back with open arms despite the fact that he wasn't the best father and hasn't seen any of them in years. Royal tells them he's dying to win back a place in their heart and home. Meanwhile his children - a washed-up tennis pro (Luke Wilson), a mopey playwright (Paltrow) and a wealthy widower (Stiller) - deal with his return and their mother's proposed marriage to a new man (Danny Glover) in various ways.
THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS is one of the most visually beautiful movies I've seen in a long time. Director Wes Anderson shoots his subjects and the New York setting with such flair that it makes up for the movie's shortcomings: in the end, I felt the script was a bit too weird for its own good - almost like it was trying to be "quirky" for the sake of it. I've seen the film twice now, once in the theater and once while watching this DVD, and I definitely enjoyed it the second time around. The first time, I spent too much effort trying to follow it as if it were a typical movie, thinking too much about it. The second time around, I let myself go and tried to enjoy the movie for what it was. Think less about plot (though that is important) and concentrate more on the characters, the setting, the music, etc. All these things are brilliant and helped me make it through what could've been a rather pedestrian movie in another director's hands.

The actors here do a fine job as well, with Anderson and Owen Wilson's screenplay. Gene Hackman is the stand-out and it's a crying shame that Sean Penn was nominated for his crap work in I AM SAM and this performance went unnoticed. Stiller and Wilson seem the most comfortable with the material which is no surprise considering that Wilson wrote it and Stiller is one of his good friends. Gwyneth Paltrow also looks great but doesn't have much else to do besides look depressed and smoke her cigarettes. I also enjoyed the smaller roles like Pagoda and Bill Murray's geeky test subject.

This movie is funny but with an extremely dry sense of humor. Not "Simpsons" funny but RUSHMORE funny. I know many people who didn't like this film thinking it either wasn't funny or not as funny as RUSHMORE. I know many people who say it couldn't live up to RUSHMORE. Personally, I didn't care much for RUSHMORE and liked TENENBAUMS better. Anderson and his films seem to have that love/hate effect on people. They strike different people different ways for different reasons. It's also very difficult to describe how or why you liked it. I find myself just saying simply that I really liked it. Why? I just did. While it wasn't the greatest film of the year, I'd rather have a ROYAL TENENBAUMS to watch than a safe by-the-numbers movie...any day of the week.
Since this is a Criterion disc, you know you're getting a lot and getting it done well. Disc 1 features the film in all its widescreen glory in addition to an audio commentary by Wes Anderson. I would've liked to have seen more of the film's players participate considering that there were so many and knowing the chemistry between guys like Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller, but Anderson is the main man here and we're not at a loss for knowledge. One of the benefits of having a one-man show is the lack of ass-kissing. Too many times on DVD commentaries we get wrapped up in, "Oh so-and-so, you were so great in this scene." or "Well that was easy because the script was so genius..." and on and on.

On Disc 2, we have cast interviews with virtually every major TENENBAUMS player. Hackman, Angelica Huston, Paltrow, Stiller, Wilson, Glover, Bill Murray and Luke Wilson are all here talking about the flick. Each one runs about 3 minutes or so and I suggest using the option to run them all together instead of watching them separately. It'll save you a bunch of time.

Next up is a featurette/documentary titled "With the Filmmaker", which is more of a documentary on the making of the film than a fluff piece. Really interesting to watch in a hard-to-describe kind of way. If you're interested in the filmmaking process and stuff like "Project Greenlight" appeals to you, this piece (which runs close to a half-hour) will be to your liking. I have to say that I was disappointed with the amount of deleted scenes included on the discs though. There were only two here and neither of them offered up anything too thrilling.

Another quirky little feature which follows in the vein of the movie is the Peter Bradley Show interviews. The Peter Bradley Show is a fake talk show featured in TENENBAUMS that's similar to PBS's Charlie Rose show. On this show, Owen Wilson's character appears and has a mini-nervous breakdown before walking off. Here we get 5 interviews (by the fake Bradley) with bit players from the film. Not only is the concept strange, the interviews are even stranger. One of them doesn't even show up and we just see an empty chair. Reminded me of the BEING JOHN MALKOVICH feature that was just "Don't Click on Here" or whatever it was. Weird, yet oddly amusing.

The next feature is an art gallery that's composed of promotional stills, photos from a cast/crew party, the covers of all the books featured in the film, storyboards and most impressively the paintings done by Eric Anderson, Wes's brother. Traditionally I don't like sorting through this many stills on the DVD player but this was an exception. The art from the movie was so fascinating I couldn't help flip through the hundreds of stills here. One thing I didn't much care for was the work of painter Miguel Calderon, whose work is seen in Wilson's character's apartment. Creepy art and a boring interview.

One feature I really enjoyed were the "liner notes" for the DVD. Few DVDs these days have anything on the inside other than a simple slipsheet with chapter listings. This collection however features two booklets: one showcasing the intricate art of Eric Anderson (who mapped out all the locations in the Tenenbaum house) and another featuring an long essay about Wes Anderson and his films by a writer whose name escapes me. Liner notes are a great inclusion here and a feature that should eventually make it's way to all DVDs.

Finally we get some standard features like the film's trailers and some minor DVD-ROM extras, the former of which are really superb. One of the best trailers of 2001 in my opinion.
TENENBAUMS is a movie that lends itself well to DVD and the Criterion Collection. For once, you'll have the opportunity to see it again (upon second viewing I guarantee you'll like it more) and you'll also have the behind-the-scenes scoop on what it takes to put together a film that pays such a fine attention to detail. To sum it up best, my parents hated the film. My wife and I liked it and liked it more the second time around. Check it out and see what group you fall into.
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